Recycling before it was cool

There were days not too long ago that families were pretty active recyclers, even if some of it was a little embarrassing.

Building materials, chiefly lumber and plywood, but often windows, doors, fixtures and the like were typically squirreled away in the garage for a rainy day. It is not a leap to suggest most old barns, garages and unfinished basements would qualify for a documentary on a show like Hoarders, where those who throw almost nothing away are chronicled to scare would-be pack rats into keeping tidier spaces. The old adage of saving something for when it might be needed is a bit different, but when taken to its logical conclusion, re-using material is not as cost efficient as it seems.

Whether that is a function of valuing time over cash, or simply that materials are not as expensive as they once were, it sometimes does not make sense to save – which seems wrong.

The construction industry has done a good job of adding products that use up resources on the shop floor. Oriented strand board, plywood, multimple density fibre board (MDF) and a host of other panels and siding are basically pieces and sheets of wood, glued and pressurized into a product of value.

Again, labour costs have become so expensive that it is cheaper to order new than to try to reshape and to work with used materials.

Newsprint and fine papers have been recycled for decades now. Many writing papers purchased at stores offer post consumer content or are entirely recycled goods.

The same can be said for cardboard and other fibres that are broken down and reused to advantage as cardboard or fibreboard.

The recently cancelled provincial eco-fee charge parallels the levy Stewardship Ontario applies to cardboard and Newsprint consumers. Although those items are a staple of all recycling programs, that organization gouges people in this industry pre-consumer – so any prospect of righting this situation as they did with the eco-fee is unlikely.

Clothing has also been recycled for generations. We had some little house guests over for a few days last week and had great fun pointing to a floor mat assembled on a loom using discarded clothes and quizz­ing whose underwear or socks the different spots of the rug belonged to.

Another set of friends engaged in the old phenomenon of handing off clothes to a younger set of boys. Perfectly good clothes, brand-name in fact, were all nicely washed and shared with other friends. We well recall one old multi-coloured yellow turtleneck and jeans sent from relatives in Germany. To us, it wasn’t the second hand stuff; it was the clothes from Germany. Thrifty folks tended to recycle in that way, since many families simply could not afford all new all the time, so younger kids got hand-me-downs.

With a still tight economy, the home-grown recycling of products could easily return as a necessity for many households.

That is, of course, if neat freaks will let hoarders save within reason for a later date.